IBM, Microsoft Technology Forecasts Pollution Levels In China

Air pollution in China could be big business for IBM and Microsoft.

Microsoft and the New York based enterprise, IBM, are making efforts to tap the rapidly growing market for forecasting the quality of air in one of the top carbon emitters of the world. Bouts of acrid smog, which enveloped Beijing, have made the Chinese capital’s authorities announce two unprecedented “red alerts” this December — a warning to the 22 million inhabitants of the city that higher levels of pollution would probably be witnessed in more than 72 hours.

Such alerts are relying on advancements made in the field of pollution forecasting, increasingly significant of leaders of Communist Party, as they try to improve the means by which the second largest economy’s notorious smog is monitored and managed in response to the increasing public awareness.

The interest of the government is boosted by the preparations of China to host the Winter Olympics — the smog of the Chinese capital is worst in the cooler months — in 2022. “There is increasing attention to the air quality forecast service,” said Yu Zheng, Microsoft’s researcher. “More and more people care about this information technology.”

A fundamental forecast was developed by Dustin Grzesik, a former resident of Beijing and an American geochemist, created Banshrine.com, a free webpage and smartphone application, two years ago to forecast clean air days using publicly-available weather information on patterns of wind.

“If you can predict the weather, it only takes a few more variables to predict air quality,” stated Robert Rohde of Berkeley Earth, an American non-profit organization that maps the real-time air pollution of China. “Most of the time pollutant emissions don’t vary very rapidly.”

Now advancements in the field of “cognitive computing” — machines designed to improve modeling on their own — allow more modern forecasting application to offer predictions for the ‘air quality index’ up to 10 days employing data on land use, traffic, weather and levels of real-time pollution from government monitoring stations and posts on various social media platforms.

Forecasts could play a role in helping governments plan regarding the closure of airports and schools, delay of sports events or restriction of automobiles, and make decisions regarding the closure of polluting plants on a temporary basis.

Both IBM and Microsoft were able to secure their first government clients in 2014 after they were able to make their own pollution forecasting systems at their research systems in China. The government is concerned about the smog situation and warns people about the potential consequences.